Ask Nigel Roebuck: March 5

Our Grand Prix Editor Nigel Roebuck answers your questions every Wednesday. So if you want his opinion on any motorsport matter drop us an e-mail here at Autosport.com and we'll forward on a selection to him. Nigel won't be able to answer all your questions, but we'll publish his answers here every week. Send your questions to AskNigel@haynet.com

Ask Nigel Roebuck: March 5



Dear Edwin,

The first thing to say is that I don't have any doubts that Mosley, Dennis and Williams all - in their own ways - have the best interests of Formula 1 at heart. It behoves Max, as President of the FIA, to steer it in the direction he considers most desirable in the long term, and virtually all the recent rule changes were made with that in mind. No one needs to be told about the state of the world's economy, and the fact is that there is not - and may never be again - the level of money available to F1 that once there was.

This Mosley had to take that into account while pondering the sport's future, and unquestionably another consideration has been the role of the major manufacturers. It is not, I think, that Max wants to alienate them, but there's no doubt he feels strongly they must be kept in their place: yes, they're very welcome in F1 - but they must never be allowed to dictate how the sport should be. I completely agree with Mosley on this, incidentally. When he points out that, historically, major manufacturers have come into F1 when it suited them, and left it again just as readily, he is speaking no more than the truth.

What always needs to be remembered is that major manufacturers are not in F1 for reasons of altruism. Yes, they like what it can do for them, in terms of technological advance, image and, hopefully, sales of their cars, but if they suddenly face a financial crisis, racing programmes are very easily dispensed with: this is precisely what happened with Renault at the end of 1985.

Equally, they can reach a point where their goals have been achieved for the time being, to the point that their successes are taken almost for granted, and cease to have much impact any more: thus it was, for example, with Honda at the end of 1992.

Now, with the manufacturers constantly banging on about breaking away, forming their own championship in 2008, the FIA clearly feels it is time to clip their wings a little. With the survival of F1, in one form or another, uppermost in his mind, Mosley is looking to a time when perhaps many of the manufacturers have quit, when there may be a reversion to the kind of F1 we had 25 years ago, when you built a car, bought an engine from Cosworth and a gearbox from Hewland, and went racing. It may not turn out that way, but we have to be ready if it does.

Obviously, Messrs Dennis and Williams have a very different viewpoint. Like most people in the press room, I put these two men on a different plane from any of the other team owners, not for their remarkable successes as much as the way they go racing. Yes, both are hugely wealthy - but so also are sundry other team owners, who have achieved damn all. The difference is that Ron and Frank have become rich as a result of their success - and it has always been success, rather than merely wealth, which has driven them, and drives them still. This is not true of all their colleagues. Williams and Dennis need to win, in the way that Ayrton Senna needed to win.

Take Ferrari's recent run of success out of the picture for a minute, and mainly what we've had for the last 20+ years are periods of superiority for both McLaren and Williams. These are big teams, with big budgets, and both proprietors - rightly, in my opinion - consider F1 a meritocracy, as any professional sport should be. Both men, Williams particularly, have known hard times, but neither has ever once been heard to moan about it - which is perhaps why they grow increasingly impatient when others, less competent and committed than themselves, endlessly cry the blues about being short of money.

Frank and Ron feel that many of the recent rule changes amount to a 'dumbing down' of F1, and in several respects I can see their point. As perfectionists, they are unhappy, for example, with the new parc ferme rules, which effectively limit the time spent on a car's preparation - after qualifying, before the race - to two and a half hours, partly on grounds of safety, partly because it will restrict the traditional superiority of their race preparation.

It's no more than inevitable that both these men should resent restrictions on technology, be it in electronics or aerodynamics or whatever, because in this respect their teams have long been superior to the rest (save, of late, Ferrari) - BUT there's a little more involved here than merely saving money. There is also the question of having a Grand Prix that people think worth watching, and there's no question that countless fans have been alienated by a sport in which technology has increasingly taken over tasks traditionally performed by the drivers.

I think many within the sport - not merely Dennis and Williams - have, to some degree, lost touch with their audience. In their quest for perfection - and let there be no doubt, traction control is infinitely more efficient than any human's right foot - they have perhaps forgotten that fans are drawn to Grand Prix racing primarily by drivers. Over time, fully aided by an over-zealous PR machine, F1 has become increasingly dehumanised, to the point that technological efficiency has turned too many races into tedious bores.

I can see why you might think the constant back-and-forth exchanges between Mosley, on one side, and Dennis and Williams on the other, might start to look like kids bickering over a toy, and there's little doubt that, between Max and Ron in particular, a degree of personal animosity is involved in some of their run-ins. Personally, I suspect that, in the end, the majority of the rule changes will survive, but some may well not, and the trick is for each side to know when to compromise.

I think you have to sit back and consider that these two sides are coming from different places, and have very different interests - beyond the common one of wishing to see F1 thrive. The devil, as they always say, lies in the detail...



Dear Grayson,

The signs are that Toyota will be the team to make the biggest stride this season, and it doesn't surprise me that Herr Weber is looking to get Schumacher Jr into the team eventually (although I must say that my understanding is that Ralf is under contract to Williams until the end of 2004 - maybe I'm wrong). Personally, in the event of Toyota's suddenly emerging as, say, a genuine rival to Ferrari, I'd be a lot more excited at the thought of Juan Montoya or Jacques Villeneuve in the car, but that's just a matter of personal preference!

Going back to your question...if Ralf should leave Williams at the end of this season, could JV or Fisichella join Montoya (firmly under contract for the next two years) at Williams-BMW? Not impossible - but it would surprise me. Jacques spent three very successful years with the team from 1996-98, but a reunion looks very unlikely to me, and I've never heard anyone at Williams speak of Giancarlo as a possible recruit. Actually, it interests me that you bracket the pair of them as 'real racers', for while Villeneuve emphatically meets that description, for me Fisichella, for all his tremendous ability, does not.

While I've no doubt that Giancarlo, in a fully competitive car, would win races, I wonder now, after seven seasons of middling success in middling cars, if he will ever get the opportunity. As for Jacques, I personally believe that he has squandered (save in the financial sense) what should have been four of the best years of his career at BAR, that his has been the great wasted talent of recent times, and I somewhat doubt that he, too, will ever have another chance to drive for one of the big three teams. Maybe he could go to Toyota?



Dear Roman,

In the course of more than 30 years in the business, yes, of course, I've come across some amazing characters in the press room - and some are still around, including my good friend Jabby Crombac.

If, however, you were to ask me - or any of my contemporaries - to single out one 'legendary character' in the press corps, I think we would all plump immediately for the late Denis Jenkinson. I have met some eccentrics in my time, but none was in the same class as 'Jenks'...

I remember a day at Silverstone, in the late '70s. A bunch of us were given a ride in a factory Porsche 935, and at the wheel was a man who had won a Grand Prix. Jenks - of course - was first to go. Afterwards, we asked how it had been, and his expression told its own tale. "Fantastic!" he said. Pause. "Just think what it would have been like with a proper driver..."

He was overdoing it, of course, and knew it, but then everything was relative in Jenks's world. "I've never been interested in who won a race," he would say, "until I know who was behind him."

Like anyone involved in racing journalism, Jenks well knew that to admire the driver was not necessarily to like the man. He had his villains, as well as his heroes, and once you were into either file, there you stayed for ever. That said, though, there remained a fundamental esteem for anyone who raced, be it in cars or on motorcycles.

Jenks took so much simple joy in motor racing. He might be crotchety as hell, for whatever reason, in the traffic on the way to a circuit, but once into the paddock - around racing cars - his mood would be transformed, and he never lost that. After Gilles Villeneuve had won the 1981 Monaco Grand Prix, I walked down the hill to Ste Devote, and there encountered DSJ, literally dancing a jig of delight. Drenched through, glasses misted up, he was the same way, too, when Ayrton Senna won in the rains of Estoril four years later.

Although his chief interest in the sport always lay with machinery - with engines, above all - Jenks was fascinated by the genus racing driver in all its forms, and if Grand Prix racing was obviously his first love, he was never one to denigrate other areas of the sport. One time, over breakfast in Long Beach, he saw someone coming into the room, and urgently asked who he was. "He's a racing driver, isn't he?" It was Cale Yarborough. "Knew it!" said Jenks, triumphantly. "Didn't know who he was, but I could tell he was a racing driver. Something about his walk, the look in his eyes..."

During dinner at the Autosport Awards, only a couple of days after Jenks's death in 1996, Stirling Moss called for a moment's quiet, then asked us to raise our glasses to the little man. "He was," Stirling affectionately said, "a wonderful bloke, and without doubt one of the true eccentrics."

No argument there, as anyone can attest who ever visited his home. Jenks's domestic arrangements were...unorthodox. You got used, for example, to the lack of electricity: power, such as it was, came from a small generator, and was insufficient to provide illumination for two rooms at once, so that if anyone needed to use the loo, everyone else was in total darkness until his or her return.

This Jenks saw as nothing out of the ordinary. "Blackout time," he would cheerfully announce, and there was the same insouciance when once I questioned the siting of a Daimler V8 engine at the foot of his bed. "Nowhere else to put it," he said, as if that explained everything. "No space in the sitting room." Indeed there wasn't; that was given over to a selection of motorbikes, in various stages of repair.

That really was the whole thing about Jenks. His great charm - and a source of endless amusement to his friends - was that he truly believed that his was the logical way, that the rest of the world was curiously out of step. Bliss was fettling one of his cars or bikes, to the accompaniment of Sidney Bechet.

The absence of electricity never bothered him, but he would have been lost without his telephone, which was used with abandon, and around the clock. Countless times I would be on the point of sitting down to eat, and the 'phone would ring: "I've been thinking about that lap of Senna's on Saturday..." the quiet voice would say, and you knew that supper was a lost cause.

His favourite period of racing, certainly in relatively recent times, was the height of the turbo era, when boost was unlimited, and such as Renault and BMW laid around 1400 horsepower at their drivers' backs for qualifying. That, combined with 'one lap' tyres, and the ability of a Senna, made for drama as distilled as Grand Prix racing has known, and Jenks revelled in it, particularly at what he considered a 'proper' circuit, like the Osterreichring or Spa-Francorchamps.

Ayrton was one of his great heroes, a man whose artistry could, and occasionally did, move him to tears. It pleased him enormously to receive a Christmas card each year: 'To friend Jenkinson, from Ayrton Senna.' And although he would probably have denied it, I don't believe he ever felt quite the same about racing after Imola in 1994. It was good he wasn't there that day.

Gaining entry to Jenks's personal hall of fame was not the work of a moment: "In my teens," he said, "my hero was Bernd Rosemeyer, and everybody's hero was Nuvolari." And since the war? "It's a waste of time comparing different eras; you can only go for drivers supreme in their own time. There are just five in my top bracket: Ascari, Moss, Clark, (Gilles) Villeneuve and Senna."

Arguing with Jenks - on this or any other subject - was like trying to fold a paper in a high wind. "What about Schumacher?" you'd say. "Does nothing for me..."

In a certain mood, black was white, and that was the end of it. He took a special delight in playing devil's advocate.

"Hang on a minute," you'd splutter, "how can you criticise Prost for doing no more than necessary to win a race, and then praise Fangio for always trying to win at the slowest possible speed?"
"Different," he would reply, studying the menu.
"Well, how is it different?"
"Just is..."

A minute or two later, once he had got you to the point of apoplexy, there would come a sly grin, and you would realise once again that you'd been had. He could, on occasion, be maddening, and none of his friends would claim otherwise, but neither would they suggest that, at heart, he was other than the kindest of men, who liked nothing better than to share his enthusiasm for motor racing, his experiences in the sport.

"Jenkinson!" you would hear all the time if you were in his company in Italy. Even 40 years after his Mille Miglia victory with Moss, in 1955, he was widely recognised in this country he adored. And sometimes, at the end of a day, I would drive with him into the hills near Imola, where the road signs read 'Futa' and 'Raticosa', and the spirits abide of Nuvolari and Varzi, Castellotti and Taruffi.

When I was a kid, I would read his writings in Motor Sport, and, even more than his race reports, I relished 'Continental Notes,' in which he would discuss anything that touched his world. Quite often, there would be a detailed description of a journey on open and uncluttered roads, by Porsche 356 or E-Type Jaguar, to a race somewhere, and I would think to myself that life could scarcely be better than this.

If anyone fired in me the desire to write about motor racing, it was this little fellow with the beard. When a piece had those initials, DSJ, at its foot, you knew it was the real thing. Like so many of my contemporaries, I owe him more than I can say.



Dear Tyler,

I could be wrong, but, personally, I'm far from convinced that Bernie Ecclestone is planning to buy CART - although, as many have suggested, it would make a very acceptable 'instant' championship, should the major manufacturers ultimately carry out their threat to go it alone...

Of course, it's not impossible that Ecclestone could invest in CART - indeed, for all I know, he may already have done so - but I suspect that the main reason for any involvement he may have in it is the presence of Chris Pook, a man for whom Bernie has consummate respect, a man with whom he could always 'do business'.

What can he do for CART? Were he asked, and had he the time and inclination, a good deal, I suspect. Within the world of motor racing, Bernie has enormous clout, and, given the IRL's links with NASCAR, the France family, and so on, it can do CART - and Pook - no harm at all to pick up a few pedigree chums of their own.

You ask, do I think Champ Cars will benefit from Bernie's talents, or will he make sure it is second-rate to F1? Quite honestly, I rather doubt if the second thought has ever passed through his mind - it simply has no need to concern him. By the technological restrictions imposed upon them, Champ Cars are always going to be second-rate to F1 - not least because they weigh a lot more, and nowadays have significantly less horsepower.

Conversely, those same technological restrictions on Champ Cars generally make for very much better racing - and entertainment - than we have seen in F1 for some time. That said, I went to the Milwaukee CART race last year, and it was positively the worst race I saw in 2002 - and that, given the processions we saw in F1 last season, is saying something!

Why was it hopeless? Because the 'short oval aero rules', besides slowing the cars dramatically, also made overtaking almost impossible - and at an oval if you don't have overtaking, boy, you don't have anything.

CART has now addressed that problem, as it has many others, too, primarily because at last it has a man running it who knows what he's about. Pook is not a fool, and it surprised no one that he quickly made use of his most valuable contact in the racing world. Can Ecclestone help CART? Of course he can - should he choose to do so...



Dear Graham,

I'm ashamed to say that my memories of Crystal Palace are not terribly numerous. I'm a northerner, and my 'local' tracks when I was growing up were Oulton Park and Aintree, with occasional trips to Silverstone, and very occasional ones to Goodwood. It wasn't until I moved to London, in the late '60s, that I began going to race meetings at Crystal Palace, and of course the track wasn't around for long after that.

The meeting I always used to go to, of course, was the Formula 2 International on Whit Monday. Invariably I would stand at the first corner, North Tower, and of course my abiding memory is of Jochen Rindt opposite-locking through there, en route to one of his many victories at the little London track - in fact, the first major victory of Jochen's career was scored at Crystal Palace in 1964, when this semi-unknown beat Graham Hill in a straight fight.

Short and tight Crystal Palace may have been, but it made for some wonderful motor racing over the years - and was also, given its complete lack of run-off areas, a circuit for the very brave. I loved going there - remember also attending the start of the first London-Sydney Rally there in the autumn of 1968 - and have always regretted that I came to it so late in its life.

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